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The Rules of Business Dining Etiquette

Emily Kett

The Rules of Business Dining Etiquette

Power lunches, holiday functions and client dinners are more than just an opportunity to get to know your colleagues, clients and business associates on a more intimate level. They are also a way to distinguish your demeanour outside of the office.

You may be a master in your trade, but one business outing slip-up and your reputation could be on the line.

Modern manners and social etiquette are some of most important functions of business, yet many professionals are unaware of the do’s and do not’s of dining out. Often times, there is a highly strategic reason for a meeting to take place at a restaurant instead of the boardroom.

Here are some of my tips for making a great impression at your next business dinner:

Tip #1: Invitation Etiquette
- Pay attention to special instructions, including dress code and dietary needs
- RSVP in a timely manner; I recommend within 24 hours

Tip #2: Guest Duties
- Observe the host for cues
- Remain standing until the host sits
- Place your napkin on your lap only AFTER the host has done so, this signifies it is time to eat
- Turn off your phone. Unless you are a doctor on call, refrain from using your phone. If it is an emergency, politely excuse yourself from the table.

Tip #3: Food Selection
- Ask the host what they recommend. There is a reason they picked the place, and they will give you an idea of what is good. Refrain from asking your server!
- Don’t order the most expensive or cheapest thing
- Order things that are familiar to you and you need cutlery to eat (so no ribs or wings!)

Tip #4: To drink or not to drink!
- It’s up to you! If you aren’t sure what’s acceptable, order sparkling water to start and if others order an alcoholic beverage, you can order something with your meal.
- If you don’t feel like drinking (even if others are), there is no need to explain why. Simply order your beverage. A gracious host will never question your decision.

Tip #5: Eating
- If your place is set with more than one fork, begin on the outside and work your way in.
- When looking at your place setting, remember: solids on your left (bread plate) and liquids on your right (water, wine, coffee).
- Please cut your food one bite at a time. Sitting with a plate full of pre-cut pieces will look childish!
- Take your time eating, talking and listening to everyone else at the table.

Tip #6: Conversation
- The host’s job is to keep conversation going throughout the meal; guests must contribute with courtesy.
- Don’t monopolize the conversation.
- Avoid talking about: politics, religion and other controversial topics.

Tip #7: Concluding your meal
- When you finish eating, signal your server to clear your place setting by resting your fork (tines up) and knife (blade inward) with the handles resting at five o’clock and the tips pointing to 10 o’clock.
- Place your napkin beside your plate, do not refold it or put it on the dirty plate.

Tip #8: Coffee, Digestif, Dessert
- Let the host take the lead here. General rule of thumb: if they order coffee, you may. But don’t be the first or only one.

Tip #9: Payment
- The host should typically pay and cover the tip. If you invited your business associate out for a dinner meeting, ensure that you cover the tab.

Tip #10: Leaving
- Kindly thank the host for the meal, shake hands before you leave and maintain good eye contact.